Cyril Mathew’s Report to the UNESCO and Buddhist sites in the North and East.
Posted on April 28th, 2016

by Chandre Dharmawardana, Otatwa, Canada.

I was prompted to write this note after having seen the article that appeared in the Lanka Web

( http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2016/04/26/unp-mp-cyril-mathew-report-to-unesco-proof-sinhalese-were-living-in-the-north-before-tamils/ ) by Shenali Waduge (SW), focusing on the submission by the late Mr. Cyril Mathew, Member of Parliament in the UNP government of J. R. Jayawardena. Mr. Mathew came under a cloud after the 1983 pogrom, whereas in reality the whole JRJ-government needs to take the blame for it. However, what concerns us here is his effort to look into the highly neglected Buddhist archeological remains in the North and East, during a time when they came under serious threat due to the heightened communal strife in the country.

The article by SW can only focus on a limited number of historical sites. The objective of this note is to indicate that we have much more material that we have compiled with the help of many people since the 1980s. Unfortunately, politicians are not interested in these Buddhist sites in the North and East as they do not bring them any votes or commissions. They are often surrounded by non-Buddhist minorities who prefer to encroach on them instead of protecting them. The political leaders of the major parties do not wish to do anything that will “offend the sensitivities” of the minorities even when flagrant violations of archeological sites and natural rights of the land, the plundering of forest reserves etc., are being carried out by individuals.

The people who should be concerned about these sites never visit them, or at most they might visit Naagadipa. Given that we have nearly a thousand ancient Buddhist sites of significance, only very dedicated people can visit all of them, even with Google maps (which currently contain very little information). If only enough people visit these sites regularly, using an organized schedules with the task divided on a district basis, they can be given some life. If there is public interest, politicians will take note. However “soda-bottle” enthusiasm, typical of many of our endevours, is of no use. I know how even the effort to use traditional names like Gokanna (perhaps with the name “Trincomalee” in parenthesis) was well beyond the commitment span of our media people.

In our reports we have attempted to give the most likely Sinhala names for these places which now bear Tamil names. There is a major compilation of place names which run into some 3000 entries. That is not our focus here.

Instead, let us simply limit ourselves to historical Buddhist sites. I had the information from the archaeological reports, as well as the material used by Mr. Cyril Mathew via the late Prof. Ariyaratne of the Kelaniya University. Of course, the information from authors like Ven. Medhananda and others, all the way back to K. Velu Pillai, the author of the Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi have been included. The Buddhist sites are given in a set of maps. (i) Our interactive map for the ancient Buddhist sites in the Jaffna peninsula shows about 40 “clikable” place-names. These lead the browser to entries which in fact contain links to the pictures including those found in the article by SW, as well as to other pictures, maps etc. (ii) Our interactive map for the Vanni contains over 150 such ancient sites, many of them with pictures, maps, historical and etymological information. (iii) Non-interactive maps, e.g., (a) for the Gokanna-Alimankada region, (b) map of Welioya-Janakapura region, (c) map along A34 road from Mooladoova (Mulaithivu) towards the interior, (d) and many other maps.

Instead of overwhelming oneself with a lot of material, I invite the reader to examine just two “clickable” maps, and if possible organize small groups to visit these places and provide help and assistance to monks or people who are taking an effort to safeguard these places, against all odds. The two clickable maps that I invite you to look at are:

  1. (http://dh-web.org/place.names/maps/jaff1Bu.html)
  2. (http://dh-web.org/place.names/maps/vanni1bu.html)

Once these are covered, there are other (non-clickable) maps that can be studied.

For example:

  1. (http://dh-web.org/place.names/map_trinco1.jpg)

These three maps pin point to where most of our attentions has to be given. It is at these places that settlers who have been evicted, or new settlers who wish to come in, should be placed as there were ancient settlements where we have historical links etched in stone and often well-supported in our literary records. If monks set up temples at these sites, no one can say that these are “new intrusions”. We do not claim that the North and the East were “exclusive” Sinhala settlements. But the majority of people in these regions, from ancient times were Sinhala speakers, and a minority from ancient times were “Damila” or “Dameda”, as referred to in the chronicles.

Such minority people have been absorbed into the main polity many times over, but each times new immigrants have been brought in creating minority populations who have been exploited, e.g., to work the tobacco fields or the tea plantations. In 1940 Colombo was full of wealthy Indian merchants, and this wealthy Indian population by itself was powerful enough to control the country’s politics. However, the Japanese bombing of Colombo had the unexpected salutary effect that most Indian merchants ran away to India, as they feared a Japanese invasion of the land. The new moves of ECTA, land bridges over Rama-Sethu etc., may have the effect of returning this country to a vary unfavourable situation similar to what prevailed before the Japanese bombing of Colombo. If that happens, history and historical sites will be re-deployed to emphasize the Ramayana and not the currently accepted historical record. The historical record can be read from a widely accepted source like K. M. de Silva’s “History of Sri Lanka” (Penguin), and we don’t need to re-invent history. But we need to work hard to retain it in a recognizable form, because, both the past, and the future are changing!

One Response to “Cyril Mathew’s Report to the UNESCO and Buddhist sites in the North and East.”

  1. anura seneviratna Says:

    Salutations to Chandre for imwhermensely valuable compilations of the proof of Sinhela Buddhist presence in the north of the island country. Surely, do we need to work so hard to prove that north or east of the island country SL is the Sinhela Country where all settler communities too are Sinhela nationals? Of course, the self evident fact that Tamil Nadu is the ONLY land where Tamil national claims can rest! Why we don’t use this glaring fact is the ONLY reason we are pushed by settler communities!

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